Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Thin Man

I really wanted to like The Thin Man; not only is it a basis for an entire series of films, but I just finished reading the novel and Dashiell Hammett wrote one heck of a novel. Yet, I couldn’t like The Thin Man. Typically, I have no problem at all with classic cinema being dated or different, but leaving the book out of this I just didn’t find W.S. Van Dyke’s version of The Thin Man interesting at all.

I think my main problem with The Thin Man, whether it be a result of the censorship board at the time, or the result of what the audiences wanted themselves, the film is just far to light and glib for the subject matter it’s trying to present. This is a story of a crazy family, murder, double crosses and all that goes with a modern Scorsese film but instead the film is 95% screwball comedy with some crime thrown in. Nothing really makes sense, and scene after scene just seems to lead into each other simply because that’s how it was written. There is no sense of an organic world existing beyond the locations the characters are inhabiting.

However, perhaps my greatest issue with The Thin Man is the leading couple. Not only do William Powell and Myrna Loy have less than no chemistry as Nick & Nora Charles, Nick does nothing but insult and badger Nora the entire film. Where the book has witty banter the film has downright chauvinist tendencies. At one point when Nora wants to accompany Nick somewhere he even goes so far as to hail a taxi, let her get in then shut the door behind her and tell the driver to take her to an entirely different local while she protests from the backseat.

I actually think the blatant chauvinism was my biggest issue with the film, I just can’t get past it. I think that might be a modern hang-up I’m bringing into a classic film, after all this film was made less than fifteen years after women gained the right to vote – it was a very different time than the one I live in now.

Next to the treatment of women in the film, my least favorite element in the film would probably be the dinner party at the end. Nick decides the single best way to catch the real killer to so have the BYPD round up all the suspect – and throw a dinner party for them where he logically works through each piece of the puzzle until he unnerves the killer into revealing himself. I’m sorry. This is far too over the top, even for the screwball gangster flick The Thin Man is trying to be.

Director: W.S. Van Dyke
Writers: Albert Hackett & Frances Goodrich
Nick Charles: William Powell
Nora Charles: Myrna Loy
Dorothy Wynant: Maureen O’Sullivan
Lt. Guild: Nat Pendleton
Mimi Wynant: Minna Gombell
MacCaulay: Porter Hall
Chris Jorgenson: Cesar Romero
Julia Wolf: Natalie Moorhead

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